Feb 28th, 2021, 05:12 PM

AUP Students Welcomingly but Hesitantly Return to In-Person Classes

By Loma Komeiha
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Students and professors alike are determined to take advantage of new opportunities despite the challenges

Nuances aside, the general consensus among AUP students interviewed for this article is that they’ve welcomed the return of in-person classes, which has been a long time coming. Over a year ago, on January 24, 2020, France recorded its first COVID-19 case. Not long after, a nation-wide lockdown followed that led to the closure of shops, supermarkets, public institutions, and academic entities, AUP included. As a result, education became completely remote for almost two semesters. In-person classes were partially re-introduced in Fall 2020, and again now, in Spring 2021. It's safe to say, then, that AUP students have had one hell of a year. For many, the move to online classes proved to be very difficult. Distance learning is one thing, but distance learning during a pandemic is a whole other story. Couped up in a tiny Paris apartment for days at a time, in some cases, alone, paired with the pressure of staying on top of classes and assignments when the shift to online classes was still fresh, distance learning took a toll on the mental health of students. For those who suffer from pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression and ADHD, learning became an arduous process. Even students who don't suffer from any pre-existing conditions described remote learning as exhausting to the point of burning out.

For some, coping was crucial for them to be able to sustain learning online for as long as they have. Many students have taken up new hobbies to compensate for the lack of stimulation of online classes, and to hold themselves accountable for their assignments and deadlines. Activities like working out, practicing an instrument, sketching in class, and studying with a friend are a few of the many tried and tested mechanisms. Even procrastination has helped a few students stay on top of deadlines: building on the momentum of the time pressure and exploiting the adrenaline at that point gives them the necessary push to get things done. Other students still haven't made their peace with the situation. They're just taking it one day at a time, waiting the situation out. "I was physically there, but I didn't really retain a whole lot. I was feeling really bad, and I really missed being in class," said Mallory Boyd, a Psychology and PPE Sophomore.

The partial return to in-person classes two weeks ago has been a relief for many students interviewed for this article. Being back in class, surrounded by fellow classmates, and interacting with professors has provided some semblance of normalcy for students. Not only has the hybrid model of education provided more structure and balance for students, which has positively impacted their overall wellbeing, it has also returned a crucial element of the learning experience. Seeing as AUP carries a Liberal Arts curriculum, many of the majors it houses require some practical, on the ground experience that cannot be replicated with distance learning. “There’s a real chunk of the learning experience missing with online learning, especially for majors that require practical skill,” Ray Haswany, a Psychology student, noted. For almost a year, and for those who graduated within this time frame, that integral part of their experience and learning process was taken away. Yes, some labs and workshops were allowed on campus at times, but the hands-on experience you'd get from lectures and classes that do not fall under the aforementioned categories is just as important. The option to have in-class sessions, then, has retrieved this crucial part of the learning process for students and professors alike.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Because the pandemic is far from over, and both students and professors have not been prioritized in the vaccination rollout process, there are some worries about the return to physical classes. Many students are afraid that they may contract the virus, even while taking the necessary precautions that AUP is doing its best to uphold, and in turn affecting their family members or loved ones. This has been a drawback for some, which has resulted in their opting out of attending classes in-person. As a result, many classes have barely a third or a fifth of what their actual size is. This does not make for a great learning experience for both the students in class and online. Professors now have to juggle moderating discussions and class exercises between the people online and those in class. Because professors are for the most part in class, the discussion is mainly centered on the students who are there as well, which disproportionately affects the quality of learning and engagement that students online receive.

The visual aspect of the usual in-person experience has also played a role in this partial return to physical classes. Facial expressions play a major role in deciphering body language. The requirements of masks, while, of course, understandable and necessary during current times, takes away from a person's ability to interpret conversations, emotions, expressions as accurately as they otherwise would. This has proven to be true in the experience of some students who are back to attending physical classes at AUP. Furthermore, many students are very visual learners. They will only remember people or recognize them if they know what their whole face looks like, and so recognition of peers from online classes is made more difficult in person because of the visibility of only the eyes.

Moving forward, in a post-pandemic world, AUP students do not seem to be on board with the option of declaring a learning location and attending hybrid classes. There seems to be a general consensus that classes should be either black or white: entirely online or fully in-person. "I don't want to get used to this and make it a norm. I really don't think that we should normalize the option of online school in a non-pandemic situation," admitted Boyd. A hybrid method of instruction should be used only on a case-by-case basis, for students who cannot make it physically to class for compelling reasons, for example. While students are glad that they are slowly returning to pre-pandemic life used to be like, many admit that the move online wasn't all bad: the absence of long commutes, the ability to multitask while completing assignments, the opportunity to revisit a class through recordings, and the change in routine provided a much-needed breath of fresh air.